By Silvio Cascione
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Inflation in Brazil rose slightly more than expected in the month to mid-April, breaking with an easing trend that allowed the central bank to focus on stimulating growth by cutting interest rates to near record lows.
Brazil's benchmark IPCA-15 consumer price index rose 0.43 percent in the month to mid-April, accelerating from a 0.25 percent increase in the month to mid-March, the government statistics agency IBGE said on Tuesday.
The index had been expected to gain 0.37 percent in the month to mid-April, according to the median forecast of 21 economists surveyed by Reuters. Estimates for the IPCA-15 increase ranged from 0.24 percent to 0.45 percent.
In the 12 months to mid-April, prices rose 5.25 percent, below the 5.61 percent increase to mid-March, but nearly stable from the 5.24 percent gain to the end of March.
Brazil's government targets annual inflation rate at 4.5 percent, with leeway of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
As the annual inflation rate has eased from a seven-year high of 6.5 percent in calendar year 2011, the central bank has shifted its priority from curbing inflation to stimulating the economy, which nearly fell into recession in the second half of 2011.
The bank slashed its benchmark interest rate to 9 percent last week, just above an all-time low, and gave hints that more cuts will come.
The leading driver of inflation in the month to mid-April were tobacco prices, IBGE said, after the government unveiled plans to increase taxes on cigarettes by May. In response, Souza Cruz, Brazil's largest tobacco company, has already raised prices by an average 24 percent this month.
Food costs edged up 0.31 percent, from an increase of 0.22 percent in the previous month. Transportation prices like gasoline and bus fares rose 0.05 percent, after rising 0.11 percent in the month to mid-March.
Personal expenses like hairdressing and housekeepers' salaries rose 1.43 percent, following a 0.60-percent gain in the previous release. Education costs advanced 0.05 percent, from 0.51 percent in the preceding month-long period.
For the details of the IBGE report, please see: http://www.ibge.gov.br/home/presidencia/noticias/noticia_visualiza.php?id_noticia=2121&id_pagina=1
(Reporting by Silvio Cascione Editing by W Simon)